So what is the explanation for why magic goes largely undetected? The answer lies in the difference between normals and sensitives.
Normals make up the vast majority of the human population of the world. The exact proportion is hard to settle on, since there isn’t a clear cut-off between normals and sensitives – it’s a continuum rather than a hard division. Stricter definitions of sensitive place the normal population as high as 99%, while more lenient ones put the fraction of normals at 80%-90%, with a ‘in-between’ group of sensitive normals occupying most of the remaining 10%-20%. All mages, however, agree that normals are dominant.
Normals are physically, physiologically, and genetically similar to sensitives, adepts, and mages as far as any test has been able to establish. Normals aren’t aware of the distinction, and in fact have little reason to believe that there’s any distinction in the first place. Nevertheless normals are quite different from sensitives, and this difference lies in how they perceive the world.
A Normal Point Of View
The distinguishing feature of normals – what makes them normals rather than sensitives – is their inability to perceive magic. Sensitives can pick up rudimentary magical auras: they can’t analyse them in the detail that a mage could, but they can generally sense when something magical is going on. Normals can’t. It’s like being blind, except that instead of just being unable to perceive magic, this manifests as an active aversion to perceiving or recognising it.
What this means in practice is that when brought into contact with magic, a normal will come to some explanation that doesn’t require accepting the existence of magic as a premise (i.e. an incorrect one). It doesn’t matter what they see, hear, or are told, the conclusion they’ll come to will almost never be “that was magic”. In fact, they’ll believe virtually any other explanation before they’ll believe the magic one, even ones that are so patently ridiculous that the existence of magic starts to look quite sensible in comparison.
Novices tend to have a hard time accepting this. The common objection is something along the lines of “but if you just cast a fireball they’ll have to believe it then”. The answer is “no, they won’t”. This comes up often enough that it’s worth going into in detail, so we’ll examine the following hypothetical exchange between a normal and an (increasingly frustrated) novice fire mage.
• Approach #1: Honesty
Mage: “So, I can cast fire spells.”
Normal: “Sure you can, buddy.”
• Approach #2: Testimony
Mage: “Here are ten other people who’ll tell you I can cast fire spells.”
Normal: “So what, they’re all part of some sort of cult?”
• Approach #3: Visual Evidence
Mage: “Here’s a picture of me casting a fireball.”
Normal: “Did you draw it or did you use Photoshop?”
• Approach #4: Video Evidence
Mage: “Here’s a video of me casting a fireball. Twice.”
Normal: “Wow, the special effects on that movie are really good.”
• Approach #5: Eyewitness Evidence
Mage: “Okay, I’m going to blow up those boxes with a fireball right in front of you. You watching?”
Normal: “Cool! Was that some sort of bomb, or a flamethrower, or what?”
Mage: “I just told you, it was a spell.”
Normal: “No, seriously, what was it?”
• Approach #6: Repeated Eyewitness Evidence
Mage: “That’s three fireballs, two flame blades, and I just used a blowtorch on my hand. Do you believe me yet?”
Normal: “Look, I admit this is impressive, but why don’t you tell me what you’re really doing? Are you using some sort of high-tech stuff?”
Mage: “No! I’m casting spells! What do I have to do to make you listen?”
Normal: “Look, I know magic isn’t real, so whatever you’re doing must be something else. Either it’s not real fire or you’re wearing asbestos or something.”
• Approach #7: Loss Of Temper
Mage: “You think THAT’S not real fire? You believe me NOW, asshole?”
Normal: “AAGH! I’M BURNING! OH GOD, THE PAIN, THE PAIN! MAKE IT STOP!”
Things generally go downhill from this point on.